Southern politics shifted yet again

Republican dominance of the South is almost total thanks to gerrymandering and the destruction of blue dog Democrats. When many conservative Democrats like Richard Shelby defected to the GOP they brought their patronage-loving tendencies with them. On national issues, they seemed in sync with the contract with America, but when it came to keeping the home folks happy with federal largesse they were very much their old selves.

However, the Tea Party revolution, however brief, brought to the fore a different kind of Republican. Unlike Dixie’s darlings of the past, they referred to patronage as – gulp – earmarks. Suddenly the wheeling and dealing that essentially brought the South back from the economic damage wrought by the Civil War suddenly began to be seen as immoral. Money and ideology never were mixed – it was considered bad form.

Of course the lingering remnant of racism along with the cultural orthodoxy of the region created a conservatism more in time with antebellum attitudes. The specter of John C. Calhoun, with the loathing of canals, federal projects and national goals returned. The recent attempts to roll back voting rights is redolent of the reconstruction and “red shirt” violence of the 1890s. Suddenly the model for statesmanship is Jeff Fluke of Arizona, who has made “no” an ideology. Despite that fact that the federal government built the West.

During the fiscal fight and Hurricane Sandy relief, Southern Republican representatives turned righteous, voting 90 percent against the budget compromise, and voiced objection to helping the Northeast. Forgetting that the Northeast sends more of its tax dollars out and the South is a tax-eater, the GOP called the bill “pork ladened.” Despite the fact that Katrina assistance was approved within 10 days, they blithely forgot how the system works.

Perhaps when the next batch of tornadoes strike or hurricanes hit, Northeasterners might not be generous in the customary way.

The amateurish nature of the Tea Party is based largely in that the organization is grounded in myths and resentments. If a penny is spent for the poor or a senior center, it is gazed on as a federal conspiracy. If it pays for an unnecessary war, it is money well allocated.

Southern politics can be complicated; however, when it has become orthodox in its conservatism, the region has suffered.

What George Tindal called “business progressivism” was a partnership between government and economic interest. It brought the South out of its doldrums and made it a national leader rather than a curiosity.

With the return of rigid conservatism, the progress of the area is again threatened.

Suddenly the Sam Rayburns are replaced by the Louie Gomerts, the ever-practical Walter Jones Sr. is replaced by the equally impractical Walter Jones Jr. – a Republican. Now the “I’ll take my stand” notions so destructive are trotted out afresh.

Perhaps the Democratic party will help reverse this back to the future approach. But the necessity to recruit good candidates and refusing to help draw districts that would hurt blue-dogs may be a good start. But certainly to continue to conduct the regional business under the taint of Tea Party rigidity will only set the South back.

The wink and nod of the “tories” of the 1950s and 1960s are preferable to the rigid approach of today’s righteously indignant conservatives.